… in which Elizabeth calls on an old friend for help with an op, while Stan and the FBI follow the trail of Philip and Elizabeth’s deceased colleague, Robert.
After last week’s slight come down from the premiere, ‘Gregory’ felt like a strong return to form for The Americans, in that it better paired a solid spy caper with an in-depth exploration of Philip and Elizabeth’s relationship. The reveal that Elizabeth had been having a long-term affair with a fellow operative was fascinating in that it (1) provided a completely new perspective on a character who has previously come across as emotionally chilly, and (2) deepened our understanding of Elizabeth’s and Philip’s perspectives on their marriage.
I was highly intrigued by this new insight to Elizabeth. She was part of a group that was planning to march with Martin Luther King in Chicago! She’s had a secret lover for 15 years! She occasionally smokes pot! At times, she has actually questioned her devotion to The Cause! All of these revelations serve to make Elizabeth much more relatable and sympathetic, and they raise interesting questions about her current motivations.
Elizabeth’s decision to end her relationship with Gregory is truly fascinating. As Philip points out, it has worked for her for 15 years, so why change things now? Why try to forge a deeper connection with Philip, when she already has a loving and passionate relationship with a man that shares her devotion to “something greater than her”?
Elizabeth: “Things can change.”
Gregory: “No, not that thing. He’s your cover.”
Elizabeth: “He’s my husband.”
Is it just that “living the lie” has worn her down, so she’s jumping at this chance to make their relationship real? She can’t leave him, because it’s the job and she would never abandon her mission. So she’s decided to open herself up and make the best of a “bad” situation? Is it just that she never realized she could have this kind of connection with the man she was assigned to be with, but now that she sees it as a real possibility, she wants the whole family package?
Philip certainly does. He loves her and trusts her above all others, and his deep hurt upon learning of her affair was palpable.
Philip: “You lied to me for 15 years.”
Elizabeth: “Lied? What does that even mean to us?”
Philip: “I don’t lie to you, Elizabeth. I never have. I never have. And you tell the truth to him? You share your deepest feelings about us with him, while you lie to me?”
What constitutes the ultimate betrayal in a marriage where spouses regularly must have sexual relations with others as part of the job? The betrayal of emotional trust. Sharing your feelings and secrets with someone else.
Elizabeth may not have understood Philip’s perspective until he confronted her in the alley, but once enlightened, she tried to make it right. It was lovely to see her attempting to start fresh by sharing her feelings and reasons for being with Gregory. “And I met Gregory, and he was … passionate about the cause. He was passionate about everything. … He was passionate about me. […] He was the first person I felt I could really talk to. And I needed that.” I was so glad when Philip seemed to accept her overture by returning her touch. (The two them touching hands in various contexts and circumstances is a recurring demonstration of their shifting intimacy that I just love.)
On other fronts, the efforts to make contact with Robert’s wife while she was under FBI surveillance were very engaging and tense, and I loved all the “old school” spy tactics that were deployed along the way --- particularly the initial signal through a newspaper ad, and the subsequent code hidden with invisible ink. My favorite aspect of this story, however, was the gut-punching conclusion, which served as another keen reminder that we may be backing the wrong horse in rooting for our KGB “heroes” to succeed. I can’t stop myself from investing in Elizabeth and Philip as people and wanting them to make their marriage work. As episodes unfold, I nearly always want them to accomplish their missions and to avoid capture. And yet. To go from that sweet and satisfying moment of connection over early morning coffee to the image of Joyce’s body, staring lifelessly into the distance after being murdered by the people who promised to protect her … it was a devastating come down (if not entirely unexpected).
Margo Martindale is such a sweetly terrifying presence. I was utterly creeped out by her initial appearance at the diner, and I just knew when she was warmly telling Joyce that she’d love Cuba, she was going to have her killed.
Stan: “The thing about racquetball is it’s not about power and speed. It’s about strategy. About making your opponent move too fast, tire out, and then make a mistake.”
The “subtext” here is pretty obvious, but I can’t help wondering if Stan is doing that purposefully. He’s a cagey guy, that Stan.
Philip: “You know, where I come from, you leave, you lose.”
Stan: “If that’s how you want to win.”
Philip: “I’ll win anyway I can.”
I liked the spark in Stan’s new embassy informant. It was fun to see her still trying to assert some control over her situation. “I have value. You will see.”
The huge earpieces on the feds made me chuckle.
I kept wondering why Elizabeth and Philip bothered with such lightweight disguises for their interaction with Joyce. A wig and some heavy eye makeup? A knit cap and glasses? They didn’t look all that different. If Joyce got caught, she definitely could have provided the feds with a good description of them. Did they not expect such an extended interaction?
Gregory: “Me and her against the world. We were willing to sacrifice our lives, our families. You know. Whatever it took.”
Philip: “You don’t have a family, do you, Gregory?”
Matthew Rhys is simply fantastic. His delivery of the above line was so, so great. I haven’t seen him in anything before this role, but I find him incredibly compelling as Philip. He’s very convincing in all Philip’s modes: badass spy, devoted/hurt husband, and average, loving dad. I loved his little interaction with Paige at the diner. And his scenes with Elizabeth after learning about Gregory were outstanding.
Gregory: “Do you love her? Because if you don’t, leave her be. And if you do, leave her be. Let her have a little piece of something real.”
I actually felt quite sad for Gregory. I’m rooting for Elizabeth and Philip (even though I don’t necessarily feel good about it), but I think he well and truly loves her. And even though part of the reason he told Philip was because he didn’t want to lose her, I think he also genuinely wanted her to have “something real” for her sake.
Granny: “Don’t go getting a secret wife on us. You see how much it complicates things.”
Stan: “Why does some guy in the hood care about a KGB spy?”
I loved the layers of meaning in these two quotes. In a show where little is what it seems on the surface, it is just delightful to have dialogue that is also layered with multiple meanings.
So who watches the kids while Philip and Elizabeth are away on all these missions? Do they just leave them alone in the house while they are dumping bodies under bridges and running ops in Philly? Aren't they kind of young to be alone overnight? If they’ve got a sitter, what does that person think when they come home “an hour before the kids will be up”?
Final Analysis: A strong third outing that better focuses on Elizabeth and her changing relationship with Philip, while still giving us an engaging mission-of-the-week. Plus, you can’t go wrong by adding Margo Martindale to the mix. So scary!
Jess Lynde is a highly engaged television viewer. Probably a bit too engaged.